Effective Parenting: Redefining “Good”

Almost twenty-five years ago, a social psychologist named Elizabeth Cagan reviewed a bushel of contemporary parenting books and concluded that they mostly reflected a “blanket acceptance of parental prerogative,” with little “serious consideration of a child’s needs, feelings, or development. ”The dominant assumption, she added, seemed to be that the parents’ desires “are automatically legitimate,” and thus the only question open for discussion was how, exactly, kids could be made to do whatever they’re told.

Sadly, not much has changed since then. More than a hundred parenting books are published every year, along with countless articles in parenting magazines, and most of them are filled with advice about how to get children to comply with our expectations, how to make them behave, how to train them as though they were pets. Many such guides also offer a pep talk about the need to stand up to kids and assert our power—in some cases explicitly writing off any misgivings we may have about doing so.

This slant is reflected even in the titles of recently published books: Don’t Be Afraid to Discipline; Parents in Charge; Parent in Control; Taking Charge; Back in Control; Disciplining Your Preschooler—and Feeling Good About It; ’Cause I’m the Mommy, That’s Why; Laying Down the Law; Guilt-Free Parenting; “The Answer Is No”; and on and on. Some of these books defensively stand up for old-fashioned values and methods (“Your rear end is going to be mighty sore when your father gets home”), while others make the case for newfangled techniques (“Good job! You peed in the potty, honey! Now you can have your sticker!”). But in neither case do they press us to be sure that what we’re asking of children is reasonable—or in their best interests. It’s also true, as you may have noticed, that many of these books offer suggestions that turn out to be, shall we say, not terribly helpful, even though they’re sometimes followed by comically unrealistic parent-child dialogues intended to show how well they work.

But while it can be frustrating to read about techniques that prove to be ineffective, it’s much more dangerous when books never even bother to ask, “What do we mean by effective?” When we fail to examine our objectives, we’re left by default with practices that are intended solely to get kids to do what they’re told. That means we’re focusing only on what’s most convenient for us, not on what they need. Another thing about parenting guides: Most of them offer advice based solely on what the author happens to think, with carefully chosen anecdotes to support his or her point of view. There’s rarely any mention of what research has to say about the ideas in question.

Indeed, it’s possible to make your way clear across the child-care shelf of your local bookstore, one title at a time, without even realizing that there’s been a considerable amount of scientific investigation of various approaches to parenting. Some readers, I realize, are skeptical of claims that “studies show ”such-and-such to be true, and understandably so. For one thing, people who toss that phrase around often don’t tell you what studies they’re talking about, let alone how they were conducted or just how significant their findings were. And then there’s that pesky question again: If a researcher claims to have proven that doing x with your kids is more effective than doing y, we’d immediately want to ask, “What exactly do you mean by effective? Are you suggesting that children will be better off, psychologically speaking, as a result of x? Will they become more concerned about the impact of their actions on other people? Or is x just more likely to produce mindless obedience?”

Some experts, like some parents, seem to be interested only in that last question. They define a successful strategy as anything that gets kids to follow directions. The focus, in other words, is limited to how children behave, regardless of how they feel about complying with a given request, or, for that matter, how they come to regard the person who succeeded in getting them to do so. This is a pretty dubious way of measuring the value of parenting interventions. The evidence suggests that even disciplinary techniques that seem to “work”often turn out to be much less successful when judged by more meaningful criteria. The child’s commitment to a given behaviour is often shallow and the behavior is therefore short-lived.

But that’s not the end of the story. The problem isn’t just that we miss a lot by evaluating our strategies in terms of whether they get kids to obey; it’s that obedience itself isn’t always desirable. There is such a thing as being too well behaved. One study, for example, followed toddlers in Washington, D.C., until they were five years old and found that “frequent compliance [was] sometimes associated with maladjustment.”

Conversely, “a certain level of resistance to parental authority can be a “positive sign.”Another pair of psychologists, writing in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, described a disturbing phenomenon they called “compulsive compliance,” in which children’s fear of their parents leads them to do whatever they’re told—immediately and unthinkingly. Many therapists, too, have commented on the emotional consequences of an excessive need to please and obey adults. They point out that amazingly well-behaved children do what their parents want them to do, and become what their parents want them to become, but often at the price of losing a sense of themselves.

We might say that discipline doesn’t always help kids to become self-disciplined. But even that second objective isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not necessarily better to get children to internalize our wishes and values so they’ll do what we want even when we’re not around. Trying to foster internalization—or self-discipline—may amount to an attempt to direct children’s behavior by remote control. It’s just a more powerful version of obedience. There’s a big difference, after all, between a child who does something because he or she believes it’s the right thing to do and one who does it out of a sense of compulsion. Ensuring that children internalize our values isn’t the same thing as helping them to develop their own. And it’s diametrically opposed to the goal of having kids become independent thinkers.

Most of us do indeed want our children to think for themselves, to be assertive and morally courageous . . . when they’re with their friends. We hope they’ll stand up to bullies and resist peer pressure, particularly when sex and drugs are involved. But if it’s important to us that kids not be “victims of others’ ideas,” we have to educate them “to think for themselves about all ideas, including those of adults.” Or, to put it the other way around, if we place a premium on obedience at home, we may end up producing kids who go along with what they’re told to do by people outside the home, too.

Author Barbara Coloroso remarks that she’s often heard parents of teenagers complain, “He was such a good kid, so well behaved, so well mannered, so well dressed. Now look at him!” To this, she replies: From the time he was young, he dressed the way you told him to dress; he acted the way you told him to act; he said the things you told him to say. He’s been listening to somebody else tell him what to do. . . . He hasn’t changed. He is still listening to somebody. Just not you; it’s his peers.

The more we ponder our long-term goals for our kids, the more complicated things become. Any goal might prove to be objectionable if we consider it in isolation: Few qualities are so important that we’d be willing to sacrifice everything else to achieve them. Maybe it’s wiser to help children strike a balance between opposing pairs of qualities, so that they grow up to be self-reliant but also caring, or confident yet still willing to acknowledge their limitations.

Likewise, some parents may insist that what matters most to them is helping their children to set and meet their own goals. If that makes sense to us, then we have to be prepared for the possibility that they’ll make choices and embrace values that aren’t the same as ours. Our thinking about long-term goals may lead us in any number of directions, but the point I want to emphasize is that however we think about those goals, we ought to think about them a lot. They ought to be our touchstone, if only to keep us from being sucked into the quicksand of daily life with its constant temptation to do whatever it takes to get compliance.

As parents of children, we are well acquainted with the frustrations and challenges that come with the job. There are times when our best strategies fall flat, when our patience runs out, when we just want my kids to do what we tell them. It’s hard to keep the big picture in mind when one child is shrieking in a restaurant. For that matter, it’s sometimes hard to remember the kind of people we want to be when we’re in the middle of a hectic day, or when we feel the pull of less noble impulses. It’s hard, but it’s still worthwhile.

Some people rationalize what they’re doing by dismissing the more meaningful goals— such as trying to be, or to raise one’s child to be, a good person— as “idealistic.” But that just means having ideals, without which we’re not worth a hell of a lot. It doesn’t necessarily mean “impractical.” Indeed, there are pragmatic as well as moral reasons to focus on long-term goals rather than on immediate compliance, to consider what our children need rather than just what we’re demanding, and to see the whole child rather than just the behaviour.

This is subversive stuff— literally. It subverts the conventional advice we receive about raising kids, and it challenges a shortsighted quest to get them to jump through our hoops. For some of us, it may call into question much of what we’ve been doing— and perhaps even what was done to us when we were young.

The issue is not merely discipline but, more broadly, the ways we act with our children, as well as how we think about them and feel about them. It requires us to reconsider basic assumptions about parent-child relationships and think of practical alternatives to the tactics we’re sometimes tempted to use to make our kids behave, or to push them to succeed to help our kids to grow up as good people— good, that is, in the fullest sense of that word.

Stimulating play for toddlers

Question: What’s the difference between a nursery assistant and a football manager?

Answer: One gets paid millions to look after children.

Jokes aside though, looking after children and keeping their play stimulating requires a lot of effort on the part of adults. This is particularly so for those making the transition from baby to young child.

Toddlers may be described in many ways. Some call them terrible (as in “terrible twos”); others call them “terrific” (although I suspect those people do not currently have toddlers in their lives). Most toddlers fall somewhere in between. They are wonderful little people some days and trials on other days.

Toddlers are at an interesting stage of development. They can get around on their own, but they need constant supervision. They understand most of what they hear but are usually unable to communicate their wants and needs effectively. They want to do everything for themselves, but their skills and abilities are limited. They want to try everything, and most of what they do is motivated by an interest in cause and effect. (“Let’s see what happens when. . . .”)

Toddlers also have an abundance of energy. As they enter the toddler stage, some will still be taking two naps per day, but by the end of toddlerhood, many will not be napping at all. This means that a parent or caregiver must occupy the toddler for many hours each day, often without a break. This can be a challenge for most adults, whether they are encountering life with a toddler for the first time or experiencing toddlerhood for the second, third, or fourth time.

In addition to their abundant energy and desire to learn about the world around them, toddlers also have specific needs and characteristics unique to their stage of development. They are not walking babies or watered-down preschoolers. Expecting them to stay involved in activities that are not sufficiently stimulating or are too advanced for their abilities will lead to frustration for the child and the parent or caregiver.

This means parents and caregivers are instinctively doing things that stimulate their children to learn. Talking on a toy telephone, asking “Where are your ears?” as you change your toddler, playing hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo, letting him bang about with pots and pans in the kitchen—these are activities you’ve done countless times without thinking you’re providing a rich learning environment. You are. Running, sliding, swinging, and playing outside are activities which encourage physical development. Playing with playdough, paints, and crayons develops fine motor skills and promotes creativity. Washing hands before meals teaches health. “Hot! Don’t touch!” teaches safety, and a short playtime with friends helps your child learn social skills.

Simply put, toddlers need a stimulating environment and a variety of experiences to help them develop. Activities which emphasize the senses and physical activity will be the most successful. A consistent daily schedule will help your child know what to expect and help him become more independent. He will enjoy repetition of the familiar in songs, books, arts and crafts, and simple games, and he will also be interested in anything new. Try to make a short walk or some outdoor play a part of every day. Be sure to allow your child plenty of free time with interesting things to discover and explore. We all learn best when our interest motivates us to find out about something, and toddlers are no exception.

In many cases, toddlers know how to create their own fun when given the proper materials. Although they require constant supervision, there are things you can do and materials you can provide that will encourage creative and independent play. The first step is to make sure your home is properly toddler-proofed for safety. Many small items interesting to toddlers, such as coins and beads, pose an extreme choking hazard. Make sure such items are well out of reach—an especially difficult task if you have older children in the house, too.

Performing kitchen tasks can be extremely difficult when combined with keeping an eye on an energetic toddler. At times, a one-year-old may be happy just to sit in his highchair or at his own little table with a few toys or snacks to keep him occupied while you work. At other times, he will want to be right there with you, underfoot and into everything. Kitchen cupboards and drawers are full of interesting things that may prove irresistible to your child. Why not provide your child with his very own Baker’s Box? Put together a collection of unbreakable kitchen tools in a plastic crate or small storage box. Store it in a spare cupboard that is low enough for your child to reach. He can use his tools for play or for helping you do some “real” cooking or baking.

The Corby Glen Playgroup

Corby Glen Playgroup is a committee-run provision. It has operated since 1968, moving to its current site, the Ron Dawson Hall, on the outskirts of Corby Glen village, in 1994. The playgroup uses the main hall for play and has access to kitchen, cloakroom and toilet facilities, all at ground floor level. An enclosed outside play area and the adjoining playing field is also available.

Daily Sessions

The children are provided with a healthy snack during the morning and afternoon which will consist of fruit with either toast or a biscuit, milk or water is offered to drink and all dietary requirement are taken into consideration. Water is always available throughout the session.

If the children are staying for the full day then they will need to bring a healthy packed lunch.

The daily sessions consist of ‘freeplay’ periods, adult led activities, messy play, group activities, song and story time outdoor and physical play.

The children will be able to participate in cookery, art and creative activities as well as being able to have quiet periods.

The activities are based upon The Early Years Foundation Stage, observations are made accordingly, and these impact on all areas of planning and play.

The children will make their own choices and decisions and will be encouraged in these area and given the support that they require.

 

Early Years Foundation Stage

The EYFS is for all children aged between birth and five years. It incorporates The Foundation Stage and Birth To Three Matters, and uses the knowledge practitioners have to benefit the children.

The EYFS combines play, learning, effective practice and welfare requirements as a whole, it is divided into four areas:

  • A Unique Child
  • Positive Relationships
  • Enabling Environments
  • Learning and Developing
The new curriculum takes into account the principles of Every Child Matters which are:

  • Be Healthy
  • Stay Safe
  • Enjoy and Achieve
  • Make Positive Contributions
  • Achieve Economic Well Being
Children who are already in setting will not notice any changes in their care, however, it will be a time of change and review for staff and management. The playgroup will review their practice and implement any changes necessary to improve the care, support and learning that the children receive.

Arriving and Leaving Playgroup

The children will need to be signed in and out of playgroup by their responsible person.

Any changes in collection of the child will need to be discussed with their Key Person.

If a child is not attending playgroup for any reason a call to the nursery would be appreciated.

What to Wear

The children will be involved in messy activities and although aprons are provided sometimes paint etc will get onto clothing, so appropriate play attire is necessary.

If a child requires nappy changing, suitable clothing and spare nappies are requested.

Toys

Children are not encouraged to bring toys into the setting, however comfort toys, blankets etc are most welcome to help a child feel comfortable and settle in to the setting. These can be stored in the child’s named pocket to keep them safe. Please inform the child’s Key Person on arrival of any such items.

Due to the nature of children’s play, the play group cannot be held responsible for damage to general toys brought into the setting.

Fundraising Events

The Playgroup is charity based and welcome fundraising ideas and suggestions and champions for such events.

All parents and carers are encouraged to attend fundraising events and are also welcomed at the committee meetings.

Fees structure

Corby Glen Playgroup aim to cater for everybody and allow for child attendance for anything from an to a full day. (care available 8am to 6pm)

Sessions

Breakfast Club, 08:00 – 09:00
£4.70 includes breakfast

08:30 – 09:00
£2.20

Mornings, 09:00 – 12:00
£11.10 includes mid-morning snack

Mornings, 09:00 – 13:00
£14.80 includes mid-morning snack

Afternoons, 12:00 – 15:00
£11.10 includes mid-afternoon snack

Full Day, 09:00 – 15:00
£12.20